Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Premise & The Promise

via Instagram
When people told me that there would be a lot of reading in seminary. They were not kidding. Fortunately, I love reading, and I love the subject matter. In particular, right now I'm taking a Unitarian Universalist History course through Starr King School for the Ministry, and the book I just finished yesterday was "The Premise & The Promise: The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Association,' by Warren R. Ross. 

Reading 'The Premise & The Promise' I found myself glad that I read 'A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalist: Volume Two' beforehand. Although reading both together would have made sense, I think that having taken in what people were writing closer to the events when they happened gave me better perspective on the history since consolidation. Speaking of which, this is the book that finally explained to me the difference between 'merger' and ‘consolidation.' Other history I've read mentioned it but never bothered to go into details. At the same time, I feel that 'Premise' is an odd mix of rose-colored glasses and frank discussion of events.

The rosiness shows itself in the onward and upward vibe I got any time Warren R. Ross, the author, discussed the future. Having been published in 2001, and with 19 years of perspective, not all of that has held up so far. He seemed particularly optimistic about YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), a program that would be dissolved only 7 years after publication. The tinge of positivity peeked through in some of the racial justice commentary, but perhaps that was just hope.

It continues to be troubling to me that the issue of racial justice, and the call to embrace anti-racism, seems to make so little progress over time among us. Between this book and the aforementioned documentary history, I at least feel as though some of the reaction to The Gadfly Papers makes a little more sense. I can understand how some whites of the Boomer generation, having experience the empowerment fiasco of the 60s, and the bitterness between BAC and BAWA, might feel like this is a direct continuation of that fight. Perhaps it is, but I see a difference as well.

We now have a more fully developed concept of covenant, and years of work have gone into informing UUs of anti-racist principles and concepts. There are also new generations at work. Gen X, Millennials, and the upcoming Gen Z folks did not experience that controversy directly, and we do not share all the same preconceptions of prior generations regarding what UUism 'should be.' Hopefully this shift in who UUs are will open doors to shifting how we interact with one another, and who we invite to the table and give priority seating.

On a completely separate note, there is a small mystery I’ve been trying to solve for myself for a few years now, and with 'Premise' I found a new trail for resolving it. It's my understanding that there were Universalist churches that opted out of the consolidation, going it alone afterwards without connection to the Unitarian Universalist Association. Some sources indicate that there were several, others a few, but nothing solid in terms of numbers. I've been left with the impression that they were rural churches that have likely faded out of existence. Oddly enough, it was a marginal note in my used copy of 'Premise' that provided a small lead. On page 28, the text reads:

“While there were, inevitably, instances of disagreement, expressions of fears and concern, as well as clashes of personalities, nothing except the debate about the wording of the Principles came even close to aborting the process. The final vindication was that only five congregations refused to go along with consolidation — and all but one came on later.”

That really didn’t sound right, based on what I’ve gleaned in the past from reading and conversations. In the margin, a previous owner of my copy of the book wrote ‘Jersey Universalist Church?” Finally, I had a name! A little internet searching and I arrived at a post from last year on Rev. Scott Wells’ blog:

“I first learned of the Jersey church back in the 1990s but it wasn't a member of the UUA but the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Here it is in the 1998 NACCC yearbook, under Pataskala, Ohio. Several Universalist churches became members of the NACCC instead of the UUA, but none with the word Universalist in their names remain today, Jersey included.”

I have reached out to Rev. Wells about this topic, and hope that he can point me in the right direction to obtain more details. I’d like to know about as many such churches as I can find, and ascertain their current status. They could still exist, and I'd be fascinated to learn their history since that time.